What I Read on AOL
Last night I was reading some news articles online, and came across one about dental disease being related to heart attacks and stroke. I'm always interested in what is being published about dentistry in non-dental sources, and went straight to the article. In laymen's terms, it covered current thinking about bacteria and inflammation in the mouth being related to many types of systemic diseases. It was factual, straightforward and easy to read. I was curious about reader comments that might have been posted, and scrolled down to see what people had to say. What I read was upsetting and really sad.
Over 50 people had taken the time to attack the information in the article for a variety of reasons. Several said it was “ADA propaganda” designed to get the poor unsuspecting public to rush to their dentists for unneeded dental treatment. Others began going off topic by relating their past dealings with dentists concerning demands for payment up front, unwillingness of the office to help with insurance, sub-standard care, and general “greediness” of the dental profession. One poster spent three paragraphs talking about a dirty office!
It is a fact that many people who post on websites may be doing so because they are angry for some reason. Happy posters don't post as often. But it remains concerning that so many people vented their outrage on an AOL site. I worried, was one of them a patient I had seen? Was one from an office with a dentist and staff I knew? Were the complaints that were listed true? If they were true - then what, if anything, does that mean for our own practices; where we are all trying hard to take care of patients appropriately AND stay in business?
At the very least, the article highlighted some topics that we might be able to address with our own patients, hopefully in such a way as to encourage understanding and trust. Let’s look at the allegation of “ADA propaganda.” Dental professionals have long known about the relationship between oral health and systemic health. Now that the connection is getting more publicity, the general public is hearing more about this. It is far from “ADA propaganda.” Therefore, it might be worthwhile to post something on our practice websites explaining this association and how it works, such as the following article: Chronic Illness is Related to Mouth Germs. What you Need to Know.
In addition, when patients are in your chair, bring up the topic and tell them what you know. As a hygienist, I mention the “mouth/body” connection with each and every one of my patients.
Concerning demands for payment up front; does your office provide information about financing? Payment plans? Short term “no interest” loans with a local bank? Care Credit? All of these can help your patients accept your treatment recommendations more readily. Simply demanding payment up-front may push potential patients right out the door. This does not mean that you should let payment slide or back away from definite arrangements. It just might be helpful to assist your patients in finding a way to get the care they deserve in the easiest way possible.
Unwillingness to help with insurance is a non-starter in these tough times (which does not mean that you must be at the mercy of the dental insurance industry!) While it may not be fair that your patients are expecting you to explain their dental benefits and file claims for them (or at the very least, provide them with the information to do so themselves), it is a fact that most people have little understanding of their benefits and how they work. Again, an insurance article on your website or a print-out taken from it and given to a patient can be a big help. In addition, address this with staff at your next meeting. Talk with all team members and come to an agreement about what to say and how to say it.
What about greediness? We have to face the fact that many of our patients believe they are paying too much for their dental treatment. Twice a week I have patients ask me why dental care is so expensive. I tell them that dentistry is expensive because all treatment, restorations, and replacements are personal and tailor made just for them. If a person could buy a mass produced, ready-made crown at Walmart, like a pair of sneakers, it would likely not cost much. I also comment on the long-lasting nature of any “good” dental restorations they already have. I mention that it would be amazing if they were still wearing a coat that they had received when they were ten years old! Many 40-year-olds have first molar restorations that have lasted just that long.
Sub-standard care? It goes without saying that your office is not providing sub-standard care! Stand behind your treatment and follow-up on any problems your patients mention.
Lastly, no office should be “dirty.” Sit in your reception area and look at the condition of the carpet, flooring, chairs, tables, and plants. Imagine that you are entering your office for the first time. Sometimes we become so accustomed to seeing that little stain by the front door, the less than healthy looking plant, or the dead moths in an overhead light fixture, that we really no longer “see” them. The front area must be immaculate and cleaned daily. Be sure the bathroom that patients use is super-clean as well. Many patients equate a clean bathroom with clean treatment rooms. And finally - evaluate your treatment rooms. Clean counters, chairs, overhead lights, chair lights, and flooring is a must.
We all want our patients to be pleased with their treatment and happy with their experiences in our offices. We don't want our patients to be venting their frustrations on AOL!
Carol Tekavec RDH is the director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email email@example.com.
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